Explaining Marriage Payments in the MHSS Survey

Rania Salem, Princeton University

Using 1996 data on ever-married women from the Bangladeshi district of Matlab, I investigate common hypotheses explaining variation in dowry payments cross-sectionally and over time. The equalizing differentials hypothesis predicts that brides who marry up will compensate their grooms with higher dowries. The endogamy hypothesis states that in-group marriages seldom involve material exchange. While the latter hypothesis is confirmed, I find that education and wealth gaps in favor of the husband are associated with lower dowry. I also find that each year that girls’ marriage is delayed reduces dowry. Finally, I test the hypothesis that the historical emergence and inflation of dowries is caused by a marriage squeeze, or shortage of eligible men relative to women, using multilevel models. Although marriage squeeze is positively associated with rising dowry across marriage cohorts, controlling for other cohort characteristics causes this association to disappear, suggesting that previous reports of a squeeze effect were capturing other secular changes in Bangladeshi society.

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Presented in Poster Session 5